Bikepacking Trans Germany

Contributed By

Thomas Borst

Thomas Borst and Achim Walther

Guest Contributor

Thomas (left) and Achim (right) have been infected by the Tour Divide virus and after both have ridden the Divide themselves they decided to give something back to the bikepacking community by creating similar routes in Europe. First results an ideas can be seen on btg.voidpointer.de.

The 1,000 mile Bikepacking Trans Germany (BTG) runs southwest to northeast and was designed to take in the most beautiful and unknown parts of the German backcountry. The BTG follows fast rolling gravel roads with quite a few technical trails in between to explore the wild and remote parts of Germany with plenty of history along the trail if you take time for it.
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The route was originally designed to cross Western Europe following the continental watershed – same as the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Bikepacking Trans Germany is a spin-off that focuses more on connecting existing biking and hiking trails to traverse Germany through sparsely populated areas. The result is a 1000 mile route across the full length of Germany that covers some of the most beautiful and often unknown parts of the country.

In 2016 there was a first edition of a race along this route and the fastest finisher took a little bit more than 6 days to reach the northern terminus of the route on the island of Rügen in the Baltic Sea. A peloton of 5 riders finished after 12 days which is an appropriate timeframe for a bikepacker in touring mode. You will face virtually all of the climbing on the first 700 miles of the route. But even with the climbs behind you, the remaining route is far from being a joyride. The Eastern German region of Brandenburg for instance is notorious for its sandy tracks. To read more description of the route, click the Trail Notes tab below…

  • Distance

    1,020 Mi.

    (1,642 KM)
  • Days

    14

  • % Unpaved

    70%

  • % Singletrack

    15%

  • Difficulty (1-10)

    6

  • % Rideable (time)

    97%

  • Total Ascent

    66,000'

    (20,117 M)
  • High Point

    3,985'

    (1,215 M)
  • Highlights
  • Must Know
  • Camping
  • Food/H2O
  • Trail Notes
  • Rhine river trails Immediately after the start, you will face a few tricky trails along the Rhein river
  • Hell’s Kitchen gorge Just when you got used to easy rolling you will face a section of serious hike-a-bike through a narrow cascading gorge. None of the racers of the first edition wants to miss this section.
  • Schwäbische Alb A geological phenomenon of a plateau that drops steeply into the plains below. The route follows the rim for quite a while on technical single track and offers spectacular views over the plains, the most spectacular of them at Zeller Horn with a breathtaking view over Hohenzollern Castle.
  • The iron curtain In eastern Germany the route follows the borders between Germany and – back then – Czechoslovakia for a long time and also crosses it for long sections. Be prepared to learn a lesson about the separation of Europe that is still visible.
  • Saxonian Switzerland Spectacular limestone formations with some difficult single trail in between and one of the race checkpoints on top of a limestone rock with a view that you will never forget.
  • Eastern Germany Be prepared for some sandy passages that make the going tough and for long stretches through deserted countryside where even the wolf has returned to Germany.
  • Rügen If you have another day off after finishing the route please take the chance to watch the breathtaking and legendary white limestone cliffs in Jasmund National park, which have been made famous by the German artist Caspar David Friedrich.
  • The route is best travelled between April and September Before April and after September snow might be a problem on the route
  • Trail etiquette Especially in the Schwäbische Alb you will ride on narrow hiking trails. Please give way to hikers at any time.
  • Language You will pass through remote countryside where English will not be spoken. A set of common German phrases will be helpful here.
  • Mosquitos Especially in the eastern part of Germany you will be travelling in river valleys with a high density of mosquitos. Make sure to bring a repellent!
  • Border crossings In the first part of the ride you will cross into Switzerland, in the middle you will be riding through Czech Republic for significant parts. Both countries are not part of the Euro-zone. Although most of the restaurants accept Euros: Be prepared to carry local currency or plan ahead to avoid spending money within these sections. Passports are not necessary for border crossing.
  • Ferries In the northern section there are two ferry-crossings. Ferries have limited operating hours. Check these beforehand and plan your trip accordingly.
  • Shop opening hours Especially for American bikers it might be a surprise: Shops in Germany don’t open at Sundays and in rural areas opening times on Saturdays are limited. Check this beforehand. Gas stations are more flexible with their opening hours but don’t rely on them.
  • The route is compiled from various sources: Marked hiking trails, short sections of publicly available GPS-tracks and sections that have been scouted by local bikers. It is not marked throughout. You will need to follow our GPS track.
  • There will be long, steep and demanding climbs especially in the first half of the route. Some of them (especially in the Schwäbische Alb) are so steep that you’ll need to push your bike.
  • There are technical sections along the route but almost all of them are rideable, even with a heavy loaded bike. The only exception is a 2km section through Hell’s Kitchen gorge that you will face on the first day of the ride. This section will require you to carry your bike in some ridiculously steep sections.
  • The route can be ridden in both directions. In Switzerland the route can be extended by choosing one of the three Swiss National Mountain Bike Routes. (http://www.mountainbikeland.ch/en/routen/nationale-routen.html)
  • Wild camping is forbidden in Germany, at least if you plan to pitch a tent. It is tolerated if you sleep in a sleeping bag and bivy bag. But it’s a good idea to search for a bivy spot that is hidden from view.
  • Shelter cabins Throughout the route there are many primitive open shelter cabins. Expect those to have a rainproof roof but nothing else. Sleeping inside these cabins is tolerated.
  • Commercial Campgrounds Touristic areas feature a high density of commercial campgrounds along the way. In many larger communities you’ll find one that offers campsites for 10-20€.
  • Hotels & Restaurants In rural areas accommodation and food will be affordable but at some places it won’t be available at all because many businesses have closed down, especially in the eastern parts of Germany. If you want to rely on them: Plan ahead!
  • Surface water: Along the route there are lakes and streams inviting to refresh and swim. However, drinking water from streams without treatment (filter, Katadyn etc.) is not recommended!
  • Water from natural springs can be trusted but is very sparse along the route.
  • Some towns have artificial fountains for decoration purposes. They usually show a ‘no drinking water’ sign and should not be trusted without treatment.
  • Cemetaries usually have publicly accessible water taps. Tap water is drinkable and of high quality all across Germany.
  • In rural areas most of the people living along the track will be happy to provide tap water if you ask them. This is also the case in all of the shops and gas stations along the route.
  • Restaurants are abundant on most parts of the route, except for some remote parts in eastern Germany. Especially in southern Germany you will come across a few tempting beer gardens which might be quite hard to resist.
  • Shops and supermarkets are available in almost all towns that you pass through except for remote areas in Eastern Germany and Czech Republic. Discounters like Aldi and Lidl are best for a low budget, supermarkets like Rewe and Edeka carry high quality food, especially as far as fresh food (meat, vegetables, fruits) is concerned.
  • Open fire is prohibited almost all over Germany but at most of the shelter huts it is tolerated. Watch out for fire places. If you find any you can be sure that it is safe to build a fire.

After the start in Basel you will follow a series of nice trails along the river Rhine. Leaving the lovely Rhine valley you will soon face a shock as you have to carry your bike through a cascading gorge that we nicknamed ‘Hell’s Kitchen’. Soon you will cross into the hillrange of the Schwäbische Alb which holds some of the most scenic terrain, but also some of the most challenging climbs of the route. You will find yourself pushing your bike quite a few times here.

Crossing into the Bavarian region of Frankonia you will transit some country that breathes history in every square inch: You will pass by the famous historic town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber, which is just a few kilometers off-route, and into a region called Frankonian Switzerland with neat little historical town centers and castles along the route.

Cruising on deserted forest roads through the Fichtel Mountains you will reach the point where the borders of Eastern Germany, Western Germany and Czechoslovakia met during the Cold War. Today it has become a lovely place that shows no signs of the terror that this border imposed onto Europe. And it is the starting venue of the grandma of the German bikepacking routes, the Grenzsteintrophy.

From there on, the former iron curtain will be on your mind for a long time as you cross into Czech Republic quite a few times on your easy cruise towards the highest point of the route, the Fichtelberg at 1215m. Soon after that the landscape changes dramatically as you ride into the limestone cliffs of Saxonian Switzerland. Be careful: Some tricky sections of singletrack will be waiting for you.

Once you’ve made it through this part of the route, the climbing is virtually done: The route continues into the plains of the Oberlausitz, along the Polish border and into the vast forests that surround the German capital Berlin, which is also not far off-route. Expect some extremely sandy trails in this section which make it tough to keep going at times.

After passing along the shores of countless scenic lakes you will reach the Baltic Sea in Stralsund crossing onto the island of Rügen on a levee. Many scenic seaside views and a last ferry crossing will be the highlights on the last miles towards the two lighthouses of Cape Arkona which mark the northern terminus of the route.

Additional Resources

  • Brady Lawrence

    This is amazing to see! I live in Koblenz, Germany and had been wondering if something like this existed! Definitely now on the list for 2017.

  • Ivan Pedalinac Rogić

    On mine too! Nice route… but not in 2017 I’m affraid..

  • Dabadau Tabaluga

    In the Müritz Nationalpark you can find a lot of trails. Was there 2 years ago, its definitley a good idea to spend there a few days. At the Woblitzsee is a great camping ground, there you can also rent some canoes and so. Maybe a good place for bikerafting

  • http://www.fueledbyporridge.tumblr.com Mario Angst

    Loving the European routes, they are getting stronger and stronger all the time. Already almost looks like a lifetime of bikepacking adventures in my extended backyard. Thanks a lot to Thomas and Achim for putting this together, it is definitively on the list for 2017.

  • Nathan Fenchak

    14 days is still real fast for a dirt and singletrack route of this length.

  • Thomas Borst

    Nathan, it’s hard to tell if 72 miles per day is fast. Achim and I finished the BTG last year in fast touring mode after 12,5 days covering 80 miles per day. Just to give you a scale: I covered 105 miles per day on the Divide in what I consider race mode. Hope this helps.

  • Nathan Fenchak

    On a loaded bike, 72 miles a day over unpaved surfaces that either include significant climbing or are “notoriously sandy” might not be literally fast according to average moving speeds attained by the rider, but that would definitely translate to 8-10 hours in the saddle for most riders, every day, for two weeks.

    Most of the people reading this site are not German, and don’t speak German. So, if they travelled to complete this route and set aside 14 days for the actual riding, I would worry that the language barrier would prevent people from managing their time efficiently at stops, and generally leave little time for them to stop and explore a little bit without being forced to ride in the dark to meet their required average mileage.

    Everyone should ride at their own pace, and I think that we might be running into the subjectivity of the difficulty scale on this one, but if you compare it to the divide, the longest day in Michael McCoy’s book is 68 miles, and I would imagine that if you looked at the trip journals of most tourists, not racers, they’re averaging well under 72 miles a day. I realize that these routes are not the same thing, but I think that there is a big danger in rating routes and recommending times from the perspective of bikepack racers, because the vast majority of the people interested in this hobby are not racers, and don’t approach things like stopping for a meal, or setting up camp, from the perspective of a racer.

  • Phillip Fogg

    You could easily spend three weeks touring this route, taking your time, seeing the sights and enjoying local cuisine, not to mention the beer :-)

  • Lennart

    Now on my list for 2017! Hopefully in August or September..

  • tinguinha

    Great article, thanks. Does anyone have any suggestions for sections of the route that would make a good shorter trip (say somewhere between three days and a week, at non-racing paces)? Ideally pretty, easier sections that avoid any paved segments with heavy vehicle traffic…

  • Idle Prentice

    This is awesome – I’d love to see more routes in Europe. There are some great ones in Scotland, but what about Ireland, England, France?

  • http://www.emptyfields.org/ kamaz

    Hey! it’s on my list too, and i thought about group start for touring this route, similar as Baja Divide did this year, what do you think?

  • Ivan Pedalinac Rogić

    sure! ;)

  • kamaz

    great! drop me a line info@emptyfields.org

  • Doug Nielsen

    This was awesome! I doubt I’ll ever get to do this route but for about 20 minutes, man, I was there! Thanks for posting this!

  • Joel Schumann

    Instead of returning to where you started you can catch the ferry to Bornholm – a very bike friendly island, all cliffs and rolling hills and with some good food and drink available. From Bornholm there are good connections to Sweden and Copenhagen/Denmark. I will be considering doing this in reverse, starting from Denmark.